Loss of European Social Fund will turn people’s lives upside down - Butler

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Loss of European Social Fund will turn people’s lives upside down - Butler

UUP Deputy Leader, Robbie Butler MLA said:

“The current perfect funding storm that has brewed due to the removal of the European Social Fund (ESF), coupled with the lack of a functioning Executive will certainly see lives turned upside down.  More seriously it could see lives put at risk.  There has been a measured response until now in a belief that a solution would be forthcoming, however at this late stage the serious threat cannot be ignored anymore.


“For over 20 years ESF funding has ensured that the Community and Voluntary sector has stepped up to plug a gap left by already stretched statutory services. The fact that a charity such as Action Mental Health provide services for over 1000 clients every day undoubtably alleviates significant pressure on our Health and Social Care sector.


A meeting last week with their CEO David Babington brought home the potential impact on clients and their workforce.  Following the meeting he said:


“The European Social Fund (ESF) has been a mainstay of funding support for some of the most vulnerable in our society for a generation. With just a few days until the funding ends we are calling on decision makers to secure the immediate future of these services.


“Action Mental Health supports around 1,000 clients every day through our ESF programme and in total  there are 65 ESF projects across Disability, Employment, NEETS, and Community Family Support in Northern Ireland, all of which are in a similar situation.


“These AMH services funded by ESF have delivered much needed client support in a cost-effective way and provided £78m pa in savings to the health and social care sector. The loss of this funding will simply put even more pressure on our already struggling health service and with little or no alternative service pathways for many of our clients we fear they will fall through the gaps and their conditions will worsen.


“We have already seen many organisations making the difficult decision to reduce or close services ahead of the deadline and others announcing redundancies for staff. This is not something we want to do but we may be left with no choice.”


Robbie continued:


“Leading organisations like MENCAP and Stepping Stones provide not only support and work opportunities to their clients but also ensure social inclusivity for people with a learning disability that is extremely valuable. Many fantastic value-adding community and voluntary groups like those mentioned face closure and potentially irredeemable loss of skills, staff and services.


“Budgetary reality, due to a real term reduction in the block grant, has led to Permanent Secretaries having to forecast drastic reductions to services. The loss of these services, such as Disability and Rural transport, coupled to the loss of ESF money can only bring pain and misery to thousands of people and families across Northern Ireland.


“I have spoken with the Secretary of State, the Head of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretaries of various departments about my concerns. My Party has written to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling up, to step in immediately. I also urge my Assembly colleagues in the DUP to return to Stormont, form an Executive that demonstrably puts people’s wellbeing first and work with us in the Ulster Unionist Party to tackle the issues of governance, challenges and opportunities contained in the Windsor Framework at the same time.”